Reinforcing the runway: how airports can step up security 

Iain Moran, Head of High Security Sales for the UK, USA and Australia at ATG Accessexamines how airports can improve security against hostile vehicle attacks 

Recently, a man drove a stolen car through the automatic glass doors near the main entrance to Terminal 1 of Lyon’s Saint-Exupery airport. He then drove through the building, injuring a worker and smashing through another set of doors before emerging onto the runway, where he was chased by police vehicles as well as a helicopter. 

Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but this incident follows a string of similar vehicle-ramming incidents that have taken place across Europe over the last 10 years and demonstrates the vulnerability of infrastructure to hostile vehicle penetrative attack. 

Hostile vehicles are seemingly becoming the weapon of choice for terrorists – they’re easy to acquire and can be as deadly as a bomb or gun, inflicting large amounts of damage in a short space of time.  

With air travel now an essential part of modern life, international airports welcome thousands of travellers every day. As a result, they have been identified by counter-terrorism police and governments globally as ‘critical national infrastructure’ and a key target for hostile vehicle attacks.  

Following the events at Glasgow airport in 2007 – when a vehicle laden with propane gas cylinders and petrol cans was driven at speed into the doors of the departure area on one of the busiest days of the year – many busy airports implemented plans to protect their frontage.  

However, the latest incident in Lyon suggests that airports might still be vulnerable to vehicle attacks, meaning that more work still needs to be done to ensure the safety of both passengers and staff.  

  

Analysing the risk 

For airport security officials, it’s not about disregarding or replacing any current risk management systems that are already in place, but instead building on their foundations to maximise system effectiveness and security levels.  

Firstly, the aims of an individual hostile vehicle mitigation strategy should be determined, and consideration given to how this will integrate with existing security systems. An assessment of traffic patterns at runways should also take place. Who, what, why, where, when and how does traffic need to access the site? Once this is established, the most suitable security methods can be identified and deployed.  

 

Innovative technologies   

One of the main challenges for upgrading an airport’s existing security is the potential disruption to a site that is operational 24/7, so security solutions that provide high levels of protection with minimum disruption are ideal. One way around this is to install security measures in multiple phases, ensuring that the disturbance is minimal, and airports can maintain an efficient service to travellers.  

New types of barriers and bollards, such as shallow mount bollards that can be deployed quickly and effectively, also offer an effective solution.  

In areas where traditional bollards are not appropriate due to their deep foundations, or where they are planned but cannot be fitted straight away, shallow mount bollards are the perfect alternative.  

They do not require any arduous rebar or foundation preparation prior to installation, and are fixed to steel plates which can be connected off-site and then simply lowered into place. This saves valuable time, minimises disruption, and provides a more environmentally friendly option compared with traditional bollards. A row of around 36 shallow foundation bollards (around 50 metres of perimeter protection) can be deployed in an overnight installation.   

 

A greener alternative    

One location that has benefited from the installation of shallow mount bollards is Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Having served 7.8 million passengers in the second quarter of 2018 and with a site spanning a vast area of 22 square kilometres, it required a robust perimeter protection system to safeguard its many passengers and staff. More than 4,200 impact-tested, shallow mount bollards and road blockers were deployed. 

Additionally, with an environmentally conscious strategy, the airport also needed a greener alternative to traditional security measures. During installation of this innovative technology, damage to habitats and tree roots is greatly reduced. Less plant and machinery is required on site to fit the product, which in turn reduces pollution and noise. It also uses less than 25% of the concrete employed in a traditional foundation. 

 

A crucial consideration  

To better protect the public, security should be considered as one of the central drivers in airport terminal design, not a necessary evil. Airports need to learn from recent incidents, such as Lyon, and determine the best of combination of measures to help prevent future attacks.  

In a challenging international security environment, steps need to be taken to put airport security one step ahead of potential terrorist threats. Substandard security measures will compromise the safety of passengers and staff, so careful thought needs to be given to the protection of every part of the airport – runways included.  

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